Seventy-year-old Polish illustrator/animator Andrzej Czeczot, who’s worked in the U.S. the last two decades, returns to home turf for the magnum opus “Eden.” Impish and impudent, this entirely hand-crafted toon for grownups — though a somewhat juvenile viewer mindset won’t hurt — follows its Everyman protag through the landscapes of hell, purgatory and heaven, with jaundiced modern-world satire at play in each arena. Rather like Bill Plympton’s features, “Eden” tickles in short doses, becoming a thematically repetitive series of rude jokes over the long haul. Getting theatrical distrib in various territories is likely to be a slow process as pic makes the fest rounds, with best prospects earmarked further down the road among arts broadcasters.
A freckle-faced, black-smock-and-striped-pants wearing hero of little expressiveness, cowherd Youzek is yanked from his pastures one day by a jazz-blowing sainted trio on a cloud, followed by a malevolent monster-bird. Gulping down holy brew dropped from above, he’s swept first into Hades, which very much resembles a corporate headquarters with more nudity (especially female) and celebrity worker-residents. Rescued by his floating angelic friends, protag next negotiates the lesser torments of purgatory, then slides via rainbow into paradise.
However, heaven evidently isn’t quite what it used to be, what with celestial employees bearing cell phones and tour groups regularly trundled through for a weekend excursion. This tourism leads to the highly secular development of casinos, strip joints, saintly can-can chorus lines, etc. — offenses over which an invisible God at last blows His top.
Youzek finds himself aboard Noah’s Ark, discovering en route a watery parallel civilization to mankind’s in the ocean deep. When ship finally reaches port, it’s New York City — where a media frenzy greets all.
Czeczot’s whimsical phantasmagoria, six years in the making, comes off like Bosch filtered through Maurice Sendak — with perhaps a volume of “Playboy’s Greatest Cartoons” thrown in — to ends that will be tasteless/harmless according to each viewer’s tolerance. (Women are invariably drawn topless, and are the source of most sexual humor here.) In-jokes from history, movies and the visual arts are ubiquitous, though they seldom amount to much more than simple referencing. Satire is strongest by far in the long, vigorous set piece midway through, where crass venture capitalism colonizes even heaven itself.
Elsewhere, peaks and valleys are few. “Eden” just keeps trundling along, like an amiable but aimless standup routine. The visual aspects, however, manage to maintain interest: Dominated by brightly colored-in line drawings, animation also makes use of watercolors, oils, multiplanes and other techniques. Sum is a low-tech look that’s refreshingly far from the impressive but generic art-by-committee appearance of most current bigscreen toons.
Longtime jazz fusionist Michal Urbaniak contributes a playful if unmemorable score. Lingo-free pic’s only “dialogue” consists of grunts, gibberish and comical sound effects.